Over the last decade, the NFL has turned into an offensive explosion fueled by the quarterback position. Every year in the draft, teams look for the next potential 10-year stud. You can't blame quarterback-needy organizations like the Jaguars and Cardinals for wanting to continuously find the next Tom Brady.
The San Francisco 49ners are on the complete opposite end of the spectrum. However, it wasn't too long ago when they were searching for answers of their own. A year before Jim Harbaugh arrived in the Bay Area, the 49ers fielded a roster that included quarterbacks by the name of Alex Smith, Troy Smith and David Carr.
None of the three looked the part, as Mike Singletary seemingly had a quarterback carousel going biweekly.
According to Pro Football Focus, all three quarterbacks finished the season in the bottom half of the league in terms of all-around performance. Alex Smith graded out as a minus-12.6, Troy Smith was a plus-0.5 and David Carr was a minus-3.0.
Enter Harbaugh, who totally transformed the way the 49ers approached the quarterback position in 2011. He freed the roster of dead weight and kept one player who he thought could manage the offense while drafting his potential replacement that same year.
Coach Harbaugh and offensive coordinator Greg Roman were quick to spot No. 11's strengths and limitations. With a dynamic run game and astute play from Vic Fangio's defense, there was no question that Smith could effectively guide this team to the promised land.
No one believed it before the season began. The only ones who did were people who worked inside the walls of the 49ers organization. Under the tutelage of the offensive coaching staff, Smith set career highs in yards, completion percentage, quarterback rating and rushing yards.
His unbelievable season helped propel the 49ers into the NFC Championship Game. Despite falling one game short of the Super Bowl, Smith was brought back on a three-year deal after playing off of a one-year prove-it deal in 2011.
San Francisco toyed around with the idea of pursuing Peyton Manning and his services, but Manning ultimately chose the Denver Broncos as his team of choice. Additionally, they brought back the former No. 1 pick because they didn't believe Colin Kaepernick was ready to command the offense at the beginning of his second year.
Yet, they did feel he would potentially be ready to take over after the 2012 season, which was one of the big reasons as to why Smith's deal was heavily front-loaded. He's only owed $1 million in guaranteed salary in 2013, making him an easy cap casualty during the offseason.
Unfortunately for Smith, he didn't have the opportunity to finish what he had started under Coach Harbaugh. A Week 10 concussion against the St. Louis Rams altered his plans and changed his future in San Francisco for good.
After exiting the game in the first half, Smith would proceed to never take another snap under center. Kaepernick took over and made enough plays to bring the 49ers back to an eventual 24-24 tie by game's end.
Week 11, the second-year player out of Nevada made an incredible first start as Smith was still ailing from concussion symptoms. Kap's first start turned in results that no one could have imagined—he threw for 243 yards and two touchdowns on 16 completions.
His incredible performances became a weekly occurrence as he led the 49ers to an impressive 7-2 record as the starting quarterback. Heading into this week's Super Bowl matchup against the Baltimore Ravens, Kaepernick has tossed 13 touchdown passes, only four interceptions and has amassed a quarterback rating of 99.8.
Whether it is regular-season or postseason play, No. 7 has shown the he is indeed San Francisco's future for as long as he wants to be. Most teams would die to have the quarterback situation the Niners have.
Yet, let's not forget that the organization's investments in other key positions have helped aid Smith and Kaepernick the past two seasons. It's hard to see this team improving beyond where they stand right now, but by the looks of it, the best is yet to come.
49ers fans can thank Harbaugh for having such a great feel on the position because if it wasn't for him, this team wouldn't be on the verge of its sixth Lombardi Trophy.
As Coach Harbaugh would say, "Who has it better than us? Nobody!" The 49ers can now relate that saying to their talent level at the quarterback position.
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